Common Core = Common Language No Matter Where You Live

Common Core = Common Language No Matter Where You Live
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Loretta Labrador in Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Loretta Labrador)

RCEd Commentary

Nationally, more students are attending college than ever, with more than 80 percent of high school graduates moving on to higher education. But on the rural island of Molokai in Hawaii – where the college attendance rate is 45 percent and the unemployment rate is almost 14 percent -- students have some tough statistics to break through to be college and career ready.

What is the answer for our rural students across the country, including Molokai, to have equitable access to these same opportunities? One answer is a common set of standards based on college and career readiness.

To be sure, Hawaii has made great strides in improving education for its students. And as a parent and as an educator in rural Molokai, the Common Core State Standards signify an even more positive change for my children and my students. Situated in the middle of the Pacific, an island of 7,000 people, Molokai is one of the eight Hawaiian islands, the most isolated land mass in the world. In many ways Molokai seems like an island stopped in time – no traffic lights, no buildings taller than a palm tree, and no McDonald’s or Walmart. Educationally speaking, however, with Common Core, isolation no longer means that our rural island is behind the times.

Living in a rural community, I value the opportunity to have my children and students exposed to the same rigor that students across the country are working toward. Molokai has a high school graduation rate of 82 percent, with fewer than half of our high school graduates going on to college. Even when our Molokai children do go to college, anecdotal evidence has suggested that many drop out due to lack of preparedness for the next level in their education.

Our children from Molokai are competing for spots in the same colleges that children nationwide are seeking. Common Core – a common set of standards that lay out what students should learn in each grade – is the avenue for students from rural communities to position themselves on the national playing field alongside their other suburban and urban peers. Having a common set of standards – standards that are more rigorous and that encourage our students to be better thinkers – means parents and educators can feel confident about how we are preparing children for college and careers. 

Testing what our students have learned – and how they measure up to the standards – is the best way for us to ensure that our students are truly college and career ready. It not only holds us, as teachers, accountable for the education that our kids are receiving via the Common Core, but also tells us that our students are on the same academic level as students from other states as they begin their postsecondary education.

A common set of standards also allows teachers across the country to participate in a common professional dialogue and share which parts of their curricula have been successful in teaching the standards. Coupled with our continued advancements in technology, the professional development for teachers becomes not just a local discussion, but also a state or national one.

Up until now, teaching in rural Hawaii meant access to resources that aligned with HCPS (Hawaii’s former standards) were limited. On a rural island, access to resources was mainly via the Internet, and even that was limited. But with new standards, there is an onslaught of a multitude of resources aligned with Common Core being developed as we speak. Teachers are digging in to better understand the standards and to help develop curriculum to teach these standards.

And because we all are aligned to the same standards, we can do it together, crossing state lines that used to serve as barriers. Adding the nationwide instructional discussion to our already existing school-based and state-wide discussion creates a conversation about academic rigor that includes all teachers, which also means all students.

Coming from a rural community, many of our teachers are the only “5th grade teacher,” “8th grade social studies teacher,” or “Hawaiian Immersion kindergarten teacher” within their school or, in many cases, on an entire island. Collaboration among colleagues that share the exact same set of standards at their school does not exist. If each school or teacher had their own set of standards, student success would vary and the opportunity for collaboration for those educators would fall flat. With Common Core, comes a collective dialogue the teacher in rural, isolated areas can now be a part of.

Common Core brings rigor to every inch of our country, even the small islands in the Pacific. No longer does a zip code determine your future. Common Core supplies equitable access to a quality education for all of our students and gives all of our educators’ common ground to discuss and grow for the benefit of our students.

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